CAFO subsidies no help for rural economies

Discharge from an Idaho CAFO...

Discharge from an Idaho CAFO…

Things are changing in the ‘heartland’ as industrial farming transforms the landscape; literally and figuratively. CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are gaining a stranglehold on farming across the US and it’s an issue we all should be concerned about – even if your food comes from the grocer’s freezer…

CAFO owners will frequently cite the benefits they bring to a community to offset the massive amounts of water they consume and bacteria-laden effluent they produce but the reality is quite different according to Bill Weida and John Ikerd:

As reported by the Associated Press, U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., has earmarked a bundle of money — about $250,000 — to Premium Standard Farms on the dubious premise that concentrated animal feeding operations are a boost to the rural economy. PSF plans to use the money to find ways to reduce the amount of hog poop it produces via a dewatering procedure.

I examined the economic benefits issue and quickly learned that CAFOs harm the local economy rather than help it. What Kit “Earmarks” Bond has done is the reverse of what President Barack Obama’s stimulus package is supposed to accomplish.

Retired rural economists Bill Weida and John Ikerd have separately studied rural development, and both have concluded that CAFOs do more harm than good to the rural economy.

For indicators, they cite…

Continue reading

What Factory Farms Are Doing to Fish

You might think this is a departure from my normal fare, but it’s all related to quality of life — especially if you live in a rural area like I do:

What to do with animal poop? It’s a question that plagues organic and factory farmers alike, and in areas with lots of factory farms (also called concentrated animal-feeding operations, or CAFOs), animal manure is accused of adding high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous to nearby waterways, robbing them of oxygen and killing the fish that call them home.

Animal-farm owners have attempted to solve the problem by selling all that manure off to farmers, who can apply the nutrient-rich manure from CAFOs to their fields as fertilizer. But in doing so, the farmers introduce another problem to the beleaguered streams, according to a new study in Environmental Science & Technology—that of too many hormones.

Full story at:  What Factory Farms Are Doing to Fish | Rodale News.

Our county only has about 20,000 people but thanks to the factory farms in our area, the county has a ‘poop equvalent’ of a city of 1.3 million people as cattle alone produce the effluent of 43 humans. There’s a double whammy for us here in Kewaunee County as a large part of our economy depends on sport fishing during the summer [we are the salmon and trout capital of the Great Lakes here in Algoma]. Concerned citizens need to ask if factory farms or CAFOs are killing a huge segment of the local economy [in addition to all the other damage they are doing] while lining their own pockets. Unconcerned citizens need to wake up!

Eat More Dirt

A farmer in West Virginia blogs:

My morning routine gets me moving and my brain awakening. After I get my coffee and breakfast prepared, I carry it to my desk where the computer is first turned to email.  I was happy to see today that this blog has a new subscriber who lives in the Philappines. We can safely assume she will not be shopping our farmers markets but something I wrote struck a cord for her and she signed on. Welcome!  The local food movement is growing!

As I wandered down my email I came to my daily subscription for the New York Times. One of the op-ed pieces caught my eye and I want to share it with you: Dirtying Up Our Diets was written by Jeff D. Leach, a science and archaeology writer and founder of the Human Food Project. In the New York Times piece Leach poses one benefit to the increase in farmers market participation that I had not considered: we will be eating more dirt!

During the 20th century more Americans moved off the farm into the cities and no longer grew a good percentage of their own food. As food distribution industrialized, packaging of fresh produce became more prevalent and now we can get prewashed plastic bags of salads, vegetables all cut up ready for stir frying, and even prepared trays of fruit to bring to the next office party.

That popular time saving package saves you germs too. Sounds good, right?

Well, Leach says it is not all good. While he is not truly suggesting that we actually go eat some dirt and therefore ingest some harmful bacteria, he does say that all this washing has resulted in a reduction of the GOOD bacteria that our guts need.” Get more here: Eat More Dirt « wvfarm2u.


Bigger Isn’t Better when it comes to Farming

The EPA was directed to set standards for radi...

I’ve shared information about CAFO’s here before. As a resident of rural Wisconsin in a county with 17 CAFO’s, I’m concerned about the impact of these mega-manure operations on my land and water…

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 1 billion tons of animal waste is produced annually by livestock operations, much of it from CAFOs. These facilities commonly rely on open lagoons or large piles to store the huge volumes of waste generated there, later to be crop-applied. This waste is essentially untreated and often used at levels that far exceed the fertilization needs of crops. This results in excess runoff and leaching into local rivers, streams and bays, damaging water quality and fish, birds, and other life.

“The waste generated by CAFOs contains a range of pollutants, including excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Even more alarming, this manure can carry pathogens like bacteria and viruses, antibiotics, copper, and arsenic.” Karen Steuer, Director, Reforming Industrial Animal Agriculture

And there have been plenty of reports of these issues affecting people, too. In 2004, 29 states identified livestock-feeding operations as a source of water pollution. According to the EPA, drinking water sources for an estimated 40 percent of Americans have suffered some level of pathogen contamination associated with CAFOs.

The waste generated by CAFOs contains a range of pollutants, including excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Even more alarming, this manure can carry pathogens like bacteria and viruses, antibiotics, copper, and arsenic.

All this can result in a multitude of problems for people, plants, and animals alike. For example:

A massive manure spill at a Lewis County, N.Y., dairy farm in 2005 contaminated 20 miles of the Black River and killed 375,000 fish.

At a national wildlife refuge near a large hog operation in Nebraska, wildlife experts concluded in 2004 that wastewater with high concentrations of phosphorous, ammonia, nitrogen, and harmful pathogens had created an environment conducive to algal blooms and possible outbreaks of avian botulism and avian cholera.

Over the last three years, toxic algal blooms have plagued Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio. These are caused by excess nutrients, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources notes that the “manure generated by approximately 300 confined animal operations and applied to nearby crop fields is a major component of the nutrient load to the watershed.”

The Clean Water Act is the principal law for controlling pollution of rivers, lakes, and wetlands in the United States. The law has a mixed record overall, but an especially poor one when it comes to regulating pollution from animal agriculture, particularly concentrated animal feeding operations. While the EPA and state agencies have implemented various regulations to control nutrient pollution, significant gaps remain.

In my next blog, I will provide more detail on the specific links between CAFOs and water pollution across the country.” Get more here: Bigger Isn’t Better – Pew Environment Group.

You can track the issue here and via Google Alerts and Google Reader if you’re interested in knowing more…

The Truth About Your Eggs


One of the supreme joys of living in rural Wisconsin is eating warm eggs that have been laid minutes before by your own chickens. Reading this I’m even more grateful…

“Eggs are quite possibly the world’s perfect protein source. The six grams of protein in each egg has the highest biological value—a measure of how well it supports your body’s protein needs—of any food, including beef. The yolks contain vitamin B12, deficiencies of which can cause attention, mood, and thinking problems.

Depending on where you’re getting your eggs, though, you could be getting a lot more of stuff you don’t want. First you’ll get some arsenic, added to feed to promote growth in hens but linked to various forms of cancer in people, and an extra dose of antibiotics, also used to promote growth but linked to antibiotic resistance and even obesity in people. Then add a heaping helping of salmonella. A 2010 study published in the journal Veterinary Record found that the eggs from hens confined to cages, as they often are in factory farms, had 7.77-times greater odds of harboring salmonella bacteria than eggs from non-caged hens.

You wouldn’t know that based on what’s starting to appear on egg cartons. Labels like “natural” and “cage-free” make eggs seem like they came from down on the farm, from chickens living happy lives and eating bugs. But that’s not always the case. If all you want is healthy protein, it’s time to start scrutinizing egg cartons. Following are nine of the most common egg-carton claims and what they mean for your health.” Go to the source to learn more: free range eggs | The Truth About Your Eggs | Rodale News.

Shift in philosophy: DNR writing fewer tickets

A friend alerted me to this article on the Wisconsin DNR and their position on CAFOs [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations]…

“Environmental enforcement activity by the state Department of Natural Resources has dropped dramatically in the past two years, according to data from the agency, with the number of permit violation notices hitting a 12-year low in 2011.DNR officials say the decrease is partly caused by an enforcement staff that’s been hit hard by budget cuts. But they also point to a philosophical shift that emphasizes cooperating with businesses by helping them navigate complex state and federal regulations and steering them into compliance when they violate their permits.

“I don’t apologize for that,” said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp of her emphasis on customer service and a less-confrontational agency. “When we do our jobs right at the Wisconsin DNR and when we are no longer viewed as somebody to be afraid of and instead as a partner in understanding what the expectations are … we also see environmental enhancement and job creation as a result. (Businesses) know they have somebody they can come to and help them comply.”

But others see a darker side to that approach. Critics, including current employees and recently retired agency officials, say they see tough regulation and enforcement being de-emphasized by politically appointed administrators, and they worry it is happening at the expense of the agency’s traditional and legally mandated duties of oversight and environmental protection.” via Shift in philosophy: DNR writing fewer tickets.

This a little off topic for me, but I still wanted to amplify this information until I launch a new blog focusing primarily on these issues…

This could reflect either a lack of funding or the perceived Republican bias in favor of ‘big business’. What do you think?